Two weeks after being injured during the shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Mario Perez still has to pay the price.
The 34-year-old was able to escape the club with a gunshot wound, but now he is left with a $20,000 bill worth of x-rays, tests and surgeries from treating his injuries.
Perez is one of many of the shooting victims facing large medical bills after the June 12 shooting, and some experts are predicting that the total financial cost of the Pulse shooting could range from $4 million to $7 million in medical costs alone for victims. Once other costs, such as police response and employment costs, are factored in, the estimates skyrocket to as much as $385 million.
Perez said he doesn’t know how much bills coming from specialists, but the bill from the Orlando Regional Medical Center’s emergency department came came as a shock.
“$20,000,” he said. “That’s the quote. That’s what they told me.”
Perez is from Miami, but he was in Orlando for a housewarming party. After the party, he went to Pulse for Latin night. At about 2 a.m., he heard loud gun shots.
“And the minute he started shooting, I got hit from the side. I got grazed by a bullet,” Perez said. “My first instinct was to fall to the floor; that’s what you’re taught to do.”
After several gunshots were fired, there was a brief break, which allowed Perez to be able to run out through the back of the club.
He hid inside the kitchen of a nearby 7-Eleven until police and paramedics arrived.
Perez was taken to Orlando Regional Medical Center, where he was in the emergency room from 3 to 8 a.m. Today, the gunshot wound on his side is purple and swollen, and he has nerve damage from the bullet fragment.
He also has six stitches on his elbow from cutting it open on glass from the floor of the nightclub.
Perez has no health insurance. He’s working for a temp agency right now and doesn’t have the money to be seen by a doctor for follow-up care in Miami. So he drove back up to Orlando to get care at Camping World Stadium.
“They gave me gift cards and are gonna assist me with anything I need,” he said. “But I don’t know how long that’s gonna take to kick in.”
Perez was just one of the 56 people brought to the hospital. Fourteen people are still there, including three in the intensive care unit.
The cost for each of the victims is uncertain, but Embry Howell, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute, estimated the cost to average about $1 million for the total hospital costs.
“And I would imagine that would be an underestimate,” she said.
Howell based the estimate from her 2010 study of the average cost of a gunshot victim. She said many of the victims may be in the same boat as Mario Perez: uninsured.
“Since they’re young, primarily latino and living in Florida where you haven’t taken the Medicaid expansion, my guess would be you have a high rate of uninsured,” Howell said.
Ted Miller, a Ph.D. researcher with the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, estimated ranges from $4 to $7 million in medical and mental health costs for victims and survivors of people who died.
Miller used the 2011 shooting of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and 18 other shootings in Arizona to make what he calls a conservative estimate.
The institute is an independent nonprofit research firm, where Miller has studied the cost of firearm injuries for more than two decades.
He said his estimate includes lifetime medical costs for survivors, including surgery and rehabilitation costs. However, it doesn’t consider the long-term costs for those who are severely injured.
“They said some time ago that there were six people in ICU who would have long-time serious consequences,” Miller said. “And my guess is most of those folks will have traumatic brain injuries that will have continuing lifetime care.”
In addition to medical costs, Miller estimated the cost of the police response and cost to employers to more than $380 million.
“To put that in context, on that same day, the cost of other gunshot wounds in the U.S. was probably about $600 million,” Miller said. “So about one and a half times the cost of the Orlando incident. That tells you that there are a lot of people killed and injured by firearms every day in this country.”
Orlando Regional treated 44 of the shooting’s victims. Although it is unclear exactly how many patients have insurance, a hospital spokeswoman said some patients don’t have coverage.
The hospital is going to look for sources of payment through the community or the state, such as victim funds raising money across the country, she said.
She said the hospital expects unreimbursed costs of more than $1 million.
Excluded in Miller’s estimate of $385 million is the cost of mental health counseling for people who were in the club but not physically shot, including the family and friends of the victims.
And then there’s the cost of fear: People being afraid to go to a dance club or possibly skipping a visit to theme parks in Orlando.
For Perez, he fears he will lose his job. He said he’s anxious knowing millions of dollars have been raised to help victims, but his bills are arriving now.
His personal GoFundMe campaign only raised $355 so far.
“As long as it gets covered, I’m gonna be fine,” Perez said. “If they don’t cover it, I’m stuck in a hole. I don’t know what I’m gonna be able to do if they don’t assist me.”